Want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.
All of humanity can relate to that little bon mot from Woody Allen. No matter how carefully or how long we plan something, the intended result is always subject to how it fits into God’s divine plan. This Sunday’s readings tell us that even Jesus—a master planner and builder from childhood—could be surprised in the process of carrying out his Godly plan.
His earthly mission was to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament. Our first reading from Ezekiel is short and sweet in explaining what Jesus would do:
“I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.”
So in today’s Gospel reading, John tells us that after Jesus learned his friend Lazarus was dying, he planned to use this as a teachable moment through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it,” Jesus said.
But Jesus did not go to Lazarus right away. He waited two days—as part of his plan. Then he let his disciples in on that plan:
“Lazarus has died,” Jesus tells them. “And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.
Let us go to him.”
This plan would fulfill Ezekiel’s prophesy. By opening his friend’s grave, and letting Lazarus rise from it, he would make belief in him go viral. The part of the plan he didn’t tell his disciples was that this would also set his own death and resurrection in motion—and establish his Kingdom for eternity.
But as with all plans made by humans—which Jesus was—his Father had a surprise in store for him. It was delivered by the third member of their partnership, the Holy Spirit, who administered it through Jesus’ friend, Mary. The Holy Spirit used Mary once before to surprise and move Jesus when they first met. She was the one who washed his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair—an act of love and repentance that amazed Jesus.
When this same Mary met Jesus upon his arrival, she again fell at Jesus’ feet and began crying—but this time in mourning for the death of her brother.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she said. “When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said,
‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Sir, come and see.’
“And Jesus wept.”
Those three words—representing the shortest verse in the Bible—spoke volumes about the power of the Holy Spirit to move and surprise humanity. Even Jesus couldn’t anticipate how seeing the grief of those he loved would affect him. He was preparing to die for us, but he didn’t anticipate that he would cry for us at that moment. After all, he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead—so what’s to be sad about? When he saw the grief of Mary and her friends, God the Holy Spirit surprised God the Son by reminding him he was also human. Jesus would take his humanity to the cross with him and use it to unlock the door to God the Father’s kingdom.
That doorway to the Father is narrow, but the Spirit keeps it open for everyone under the Son.